Living close to a garage or gas station may quadruple the risk of acute childhood leukaemia, suggests research published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The findings are based on 280 cases of acute childhood leukaemia and a comparison group of 285 children matched for sex. The children were drawn from four hospitals in France and almost two thirds (60%) of the children with leukaemia were aged between 2 and 6.
The mothers of all the children were interviewed about their employment and residential histories. There was no clear association between the mother's occupation during pregnancy or levels of residential traffic and the risk of her child developing leukaemia. But a child whose home was in the vicinity of a gas station or a commercial garage that carried out repairs was four times as likely to develop leukaemia as a child whose home was not close to these outlets.
The risk appeared to be even greater for acute non-lymphoblastic leukaemia. This was seven times more common among the children living close to a petrol station or commercial garage.
The longer a child had lived close to a petrol station or commercial garage, the higher the risk of leukaemia seemed to be.
Occupational exposure to benzene has been identified as a possible risk factor for leukaemia in adults, say the researchers, and petrol stations and commercial garages are a source of benzene emissions.
"These findings, as far as we know, have never been described before, and could be due to chance. However, the strength of the association and the duration trend are arguments for a causal association," the researchers concluded.